Saturday, November 3, 2018

How I Started to Meditate

I've been thinking about meditating for years.

Although I don't remember specifically, I suspect that I first heard about mindfulness meditation sometime during my medical training.  It was probably during a session on "resiliency" or "work-life balance", and I was probably cursing the fact that I had to sit through an hour of stupid talks before I could get back to the ward to finish my work and go home.  I probably laughed at the idea of using my precious free time to sit on a cushion and focus on my breath.

But it kept coming up.  In talks, in articles, from friends and co-workers.  And always with an emphasis on all the things it has been shown to help with:  depression, anxiety, stress, insomnia, and pretty much every other bad thing that people struggle with.  So I read a book, which I loved.  And went to one class, which I hated so much I practically ran to the instructor to get a refund at the end of it.  And I thought often about doing it.  But never did.

(This is the point at which I would love to insert something profound about a life-altering experience that motivated me to start meditating.  In reality?  (Rosemary is going to laugh at this.)  It was a girl.)

I met a woman online who is super into yoga - does yoga at least once a day, reads books about yoga, goes on yoga retreats, and has a yoga tattoo, into yoga.  And...she was really cute.  And while I couldn't become an expert in yoga in the week between when we met online and when we met in person, I had enough knowledge about meditation that I felt I could claim some proficiency in it after a week.  And meditation is basically yoga without all the stretching, right?  So I started getting up 15 minutes early every morning to plunk myself down on that cushion and focus on my breath.

Sadly, the date was not the beginning of a great romance that I have failed to talk about here (Despite my abysmal blogging record recently, I would have blogged about something that exciting.).  But the meditation stuck.  From day one, I felt a little less anxious, and a little less stressed.  I slept a little better.  In exchange for getting up 15 minutes earlier, I really do feel 10% happier.

Apparently online dating can pay off.  

Friday, November 2, 2018

This May Be a Month of Placeholder Posts

It is 11:33, and I suddenly remembered this blog and NaBloPoMo.  So...I'm sorry.  This is not going to be a particularly inspired post.  It is, in fact, going to just be a list (someone said that lists were completely okay).  I will try to do better.

Things I May Write About in the Next 28 Days:
-  Meditation
-  What to do when all your friends have babies, but you're single and childless
-  Dating (For this post, I will need a good gif of someone moaning while they rip all the skin off their face)
-  Something money-related, given that I kind of claim to be a Personal Finance blogger?
-  Uhhhh...photos of my cats?

This could be a long month.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

If Creampuff Can Do It

It's NaBloPoMo, one of the worst-named events ever, which means that Rosemary at Creampuff Revolution is blogging again!

I haven't blogged in almost two months.  Not sure why...maybe because meditation is making me less angsty, and I am less in need of a public space to vent?  Maybe I'm just lazy?  (Bets on the latter.)

I don't know if I will NaBloPoMo this year, but the day is almost over, so I'm putting this here in case I decide to commit to it.  If you're still reading my blog and I decide to do it, what do you want me to write about?

Monday, September 3, 2018

Building Community

This weekend marks the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the end of my relationship with my ex, M.  The anniversary of the actual end will be this Wednesday, but I'm going to be on-call that day, and in the interest of not being a disaster at work, I am trying to get all the feels out this weekend.  I spent Saturday alone at a Nordic spa, warming myself in hot tubs and dry saunas, and yesterday I basically lived in my pjs.  The only reason I bathed was because I had made plans to go to the Mister Rogers documentary with a friend, and I thought she might prefer it if I didn't smell*.

Today, Labour Day, I'm rejoining the real world.  My fourth load of laundry is in, the fridge has been emptied of moldy olives (who knew they could go moldy?), and the dishes are drying in the rack.  And after days of wallowing in the hard stuff, I'm searching for the good things that came out of my "failed" relationship.  What have I found so far?

Community.

M's family has belonged to the same church since her parents met at a local bible college, so their connections to other church members go back decades.  Soon after I started dating M (once she had come out to her church in the middle of a sermon she was delivering), I started getting invited to events with members of her church community.  Fundraisers, potlucks, small group dinners, reunions at the bible college, board game afternoons, and trivia nights...my social calendar filled up effortlessly.  And it was really lovely.  She goes to a very left-wing, social justice-oriented church, so while I didn't share a faith with these people, I definitely shared a philosophy with them.

And then, it ended.  At the same time as I lost M, I also lost my connections to the dozens of people in her life who had become an extended family to me.  My social calendar emptied itself out.  It's been a year, and I still find myself grieving some of the harder losses**.

But the upside is that the loneliness I felt after the breakup drove me to work on my own community.  I had neglected some important relationships while I was dating M, and in the past year I've done what I can to strengthen them again. And because many of my friends chose the past year to start having babies and to disappear from the social world, I've also been looking for opportunities to befriend new people.  I've become really good friends with R, who is the ex-girlfriend of another friend of mine.  I've developed a friendship with the woman I dated after M, because although we were romantically incompatible, we have a freakish amount of things in common.  And I'm becoming friends with another woman I met through online dating.  (One of the perks of same-sex dating...online dating can be a source of friendships!)

I'm also joining pretty much everything I can think of to join.  I became a board member for a local theatre company.  I joined a conversational French group.  I started going to a drop-in knitting group.  I've joined a group of lesbians of "a certain age" who are interested in local cultural activities.  I'm even going to an upcoming information night about co-housing!

I'm not going to lie - it's been hard.  It sucks to have spent over three years in the midst of a supportive community and to have suddenly lost it.  I miss the ease of having a partner and a ready-made social life, at the same time as I recognize that it isn't healthy to be dependent on another person for all of my social activities.  As an introvert, it's also really difficult for so many of my relationships to still be in the early phase.  I want the comfort of 20-year-old friendships, not the awkwardness of new relationships!

But I'm working on it.  I'm taking the opportunities that present themselves, and I'm putting myself out in the world as much as I can.  And trying to be patient as I rebuild the community I lost.

*You should go see this documentary, but if you have any heart, go with someone you're comfortable crying with.  And take Kleenex.

**How am I doing with the whole not wallowing thing?

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Why I Stopped Dieting

Like most women, I could tell you a lifetime of diet stories.  The first one I remember is from grade five, when I was 10 years old, and I decided that I was tired of being the biggest person in my class*, the boys having not hit their pubertal growth spurts yet.  In a moment of inspiration, I created for myself an elaborate system in which I could eat whatever I wanted, but only if I exercised first.  Every food, from a carrot to a can of Coke, was assigned some cost in terms of sit ups or distance walked.

I think the system lasted for a few hours, which isn't very surprising given that it involved doing something like 50 pushups before I could eat a single apple, and I have never successfully done a pushup in my life.  But where it failed in getting me to lose weight, it succeeding in taking a kid who had always been a good eater and turning her into someone who didn't trust herself to know how to eat.  Someone who no longer thought of food in terms of things she did and didn't like, but rather in terms of things that were "good" and "bad.

And someone who, like lots of women, would spend decades of her life on and off diets.  When on a diet, I would try to be constantly virtuous, eating only small portions of healthy foods and watching the scale more closely than I currently watch my net worth.  When off, I would allow myself to eat anything I wanted, knowing that this was my opportunity to scarf down whole tubs of Hagen Daas and make regular trips to the McDonald's drive-thru.  I never quite got to the point of binging and purging, but my whole dietary pattern was essentially a slow-motion binge-purge cycle.

The most "successful" diet I ever did, if success is measured by weight lost, was Weight Watchers.  A few of my friends lost weight by counting "points" and going to weigh-in meetings, and one offered to share a copy of the material with me.  For six months, everything to cross my lips was assigned a point value and recorded diligently in a food journal.  If I didn't have enough points for everything I wanted, I could earn more by exercising; for example, a walk to and from the ice cream shop at the bottom of the hill by the university where I worked was enough to earn me a small scoop of ice cream, as long as I didn't get it in a cone.

And it worked!  The pounds melted off, and I lost about 25% of myself.  I got to buy a whole new wardrobe, and people constantly complimented me on how good I looked.  When I see pictures from that time, I miss my almost-tiny body and the huge confidence boost that came from finally being skinny.  The only drawback?

I was utterly miserable.

I was existing on about 1200-1400 calories per day, even with the extra calories I earned from exercising, and there was no way for that to ever feel like enough.  I spent every minute of my life thinking about food - about how hungry I was, about when I would eat next, about how I could save or earn enough points to eat half a chocolate bar.  And all I could talk about was food and weight.  I became the person that people avoided in the lunch room, because they knew that I was going to talk about the number of points in their lunch or encourage them to join me like a Weight Watchers missionary.

Eventually, it broke me.  The satisfaction of being skinny didn't make up for the misery of being hungry, so I stopped.  And watched as every single one of the pounds I had lost came back, bringing a few friends with them for good measure.

Weight Watchers was the last serious diet I ever did.  I still had periods when I would be frustrated with my weight, and I would try to lose it for a week or a month or two, but after the long-term failure of Weight Watchers, I had become disillusioned.  Maybe, it occurred to me, dieting didn't actually work.

When I started medical school, I once again got hit with the dieting mentality in full force.  Lectures were filled with slides about the "growing obesity crisis" and about how we should counsel our patients to "lose 1-2 pounds a week for sustainable weight loss".  Except, now I started to push back.  I asked professors how realistic it was to expect patients to lose 1-2 pounds a week, and they had to admit that almost none of their patients were able to do it.  I started to read the scientific literature, which shows that even under optimal conditions (clinical trials with nutritional and exercise support), only a small percentage of people lose weight, and almost no one keeps it off long term.

Diets.  Don't.  Work.

So I vowed to never diet again.  In the beginning, this led to a frenzy of eating.  Everything was allowed!  In a short period of time, I made up for all the ice cream and pop and chips and candy that I had deprived myself of for years.  And it was great!  Except...I felt like shit.  And I actually started craving healthy things, like salads and blueberries.

So I did what any bookish nerd would do, and I read.  I read about the impacts of lifestyle (not weight!) on health, and about Health at Every Size, and about intuitive eating.  And I learned that being anti-diet and anti-scale doesn't mean that you have to shop exclusively in the junk food aisle.  One can fight against the oppressive capitalist system of the diet industry and still be healthy.

My focus now is on eating and exercising in a way that keeps me healthy and mentally sane, regardless of what happens to my weight.  Not in a "I'm really trying to lose weight but will pretend it's just a healthy lifestyle" way, but in a legitimate "I'm trying not to give any fucks about the scale, but it's hard because I've been conditioned to view my weight as a measure of my value as a person" kind of way.  I'm using the novel system of eating when I'm hungry and stopping when I'm not.  I'm packing my fridge full of healthy foods, but I also have three tubs of ice cream in my freezer, because ice cream is good for my mental health.  I'm walking all the time, not because it earns me more points, but because I live in a beautiful city and it is much more fun than spending my evenings cursing the right-wing assholes on Twitter.

I am simply taking care of myself.

And dammit if I haven't lost weight.  I don't know how much, because I refuse to step on the scale, but my face is a little less round and my jeans no longer leave a mark on the middle of my stomach.  In a weird way, this makes me angry, because dammit I've finally let go of the need to be skinny and of the quest to not to take up so much space.  And as I lose weight, it's hard not to listen to the old voice in my head that says that it's better to be thin.  That if I just cut my portions a bit, walk a bit longer every night, I could be thinner.  I have almost thirty years of practice with dieting and only one with self care, so it's tempting to go back to my familiar routines.

Except that I'm so much happier now.  I'm happier eating like pre-diet me, simply because I like food and it makes me feel good.  I'm happier without the diet/no diet cycles and the despair when the number on the scale won't go down.  So fuck dieting.  I'm officially done.

*Like many girls who diet, I wasn't even overweight at the time; I was simply tall.  I was in the 99th percentile for height and the 90th percentile for weight, so my diet wasn't a response to being fat but rather to feeling huge next to all the short girls and knowing, even then, that huge was bad.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Self Care

When medical schools interview prospective students, the question "How do you deal with stress?", or some variant, inevitably comes up.  Having been an interviewer on a few occasions, I know that every interviewee with at least basic interviewing skills will come up with some combination of the following:

Exercise
Rest
Adequate breaks
Healthy eating
Meditation
Yoga
Time with friends and family
Etc.

When I said those things in my medical school interviews, just like everyone else, I was very earnest.  I legitimately thought I would find the time and energy for all of them in my medical training.

(Insert sound of my laughter here.)

Medical training was the hardest and most life-altering thing I have ever done.  Not so much the first two years - those were almost entirely classroom based, and I had long ago mastered the art of sitting in lectures and writing exams - but definitely everything that came after.  The moment I set foot on a ward for the first time, I transformed into a human-shaped bundle of stress and anxiety, constantly terrified that I was going to be responsible for letting someone die.  And unlike with many of my classmates, that feeling didn't go away for a very long time.

My strategy for dealing with this terror was to pretty much never stop working.  I would come in earlier than everyone else, work through lunch, and stay late.  I convinced myself that double, triple, quadruple checking everything would make me perfect and prevent me from ever making a mistake.  (Spoiler alert:  It doesn't.)  Any time I thought about putting in less than 100% of my maximum effort at work, I would remind myself of what was at stake:  People will die if you screw up.

Not surprisingly, my perpetual state of panic and overwork wasn't very conducive to taking care of myself.  I essentially stopped exercising on day one of my clinical rotations.  I gave up cooking for myself and ordered food so often that the receptionists at the delivery services recognized my voice.  And I started spending all the money I wanted, whenever I wanted, because "I deserved it". 

Yoga?  Did my stomach doing nervous back flips count?
Healthy eating?  If I bought my Coke and Nacho Cheese Doritos from the vending machine on the Cardiology ward, did that make them healthy?

I don't know how long I would have continued being so completely and utterly negligent of myself had it not been for a few key events.  The first was a crisis at work, which woke me up to the fact that I might not ever graduate and earn a doctor's salary.  (Spoiler alert:  I did!  And I paid off my student loans yesterday!!!)  Suddenly it no longer felt okay to spend more money than I was earning, so I discovered the great Mr. Money Mustache, started a budget, and got my financial life back in order.  The second was some upheaval at work, during which I reached out to some of the other attendings, and which ultimately led to me being connected to a wonderful performance coach.  While I have only seen him twice, I credit him with enabling me to let go of my self-destructive perfectionism and to forgive myself for being human.

The third thing wasn't a specific event, but rather years of working with people with lifestyle-related illnesses.  I spend a lot of my time at work counseling people about the negative effects of poor diet and lack of exercise, as well as treating them when their bodies break down after years of misuse.  Somewhere around the thousandth time that I said "Pop is basically poison", the message started to sink into my brain.  I'm not immune to the things that affect my patients.  I also need to care for myself.

So slowly (sometimes oh so painfully slowly) I have started to change the bad habits that I learned in medical school.  I've almost completely abandoned sugar-sweetened beverages.  I've started mostly eating brown rice* and brown pasta.  I cook a lot of my meals from scratch, and I try to pack them full of veggies and other healthy things.  I'm even exercising again and (amazingly) kind of enjoying it.

And so many other things, like getting enough sleep and meditating and taking enough vacations and quitting Twitter.  All of the things that I said I would do in my medical school interview 13 years ago, I am finally getting around to.  And it feels really, really good.

*This is huge for me, because I love white rice with a fiery passion and can happily eat two large bowls of it, smothered in butter and salt, in one sitting.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Learning About Love from Mary Oliver

For almost all of my dating life, I have struggled to make failing relationships work.  The queer community in my city is small, so I've tried to convince myself over and over that I can make do with someone who is too loud/too messy/not interesting enough in order to have a partner.  The worst of this was with my second-last ex, whose many good features made me want to overlook the bad, resulting in four years of settling for not quite enough.

Towards the end of that relationship, I started seeking solace in literature.  I would Google phrases like "poems about hating your girlfriend" and "poems to help me stay in a relationship when I'm unhappy" and then spend hours scrolling through the results.  Somewhere in the midst of this, I stumbled upon Mary Oliver's "Wild Geese", which in my opinion is one of the best things ever written. 

The whole poem is fabulous, but what stood out for me was the line "You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves."  The line stuck with me for days, forcing me to realize that the soft animal of my body did not love my partner, no matter how hard I tried to will it to.  I'm sure I would have broken up with my ex eventually even without it, but that single line was the thing that finally allowed me to walk away.

As I get back into dating after the end of my long relationship, I carry these words with me.  They remind me that love isn't something that can be forced or willed.  I can't change myself to be loved by someone else, nor can I ignore parts of another person in order to love them.  The soft animal of my body is a highly discerning tyrant, and she is in charge.